They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I saw a picture today that was worth about a million.
And here are some of those words (About 4,400 to be exact)…
Just a few days before I turned 25, back in 1988, I got a call from one of my old college roommates inviting me back down to my old alma mater to see a hockey game or two. "I've even invited a bunch of women!" he added. My friend was a short, stout hairy guy and I had some suspicions about his claim but it sounded like fun.
I made the 4 hour drive after work and walked into the rink just before the game started. I searched the stands for my friends and sure enough he was there surrounded by a bunch of his buddies and there was exactly one girl in the midst of that small knot of people.
Well, shoot. So I bought a couple of beers, determined to have a good time, regardless. I joined my friends in the stands and proceeded to do just that. In those days, hockey was a truly primitive sport. Our college team wasn't even a varsity sport, it was just a club and played other college clubs throughout the Midwest. We would yell and scream at the opposing teams, throw beer, yell at the referees and generally act like a bunch of boozed up barbarians. It was tons of fun.
For some reason this girl, one of the few at the game, took an interest in me. We talked and chatted, she laughed at my jokes, and stood beside me during the entire game. None of us ever sat down during these matches. A few years later that would all change as more people started coming to the games, and they started bringing their young kids and they forced people to simmer down mainly by raising the price of beer from 50 cents to $1.75.
This girl's name was Ellen. She was a senior majoring in Elementary Education. I had graduated the year before, so we could have known each other before, but we had never met. She didn't drink very much, so I can't really blame it the beer. But she took a definite shine to me. She complained about being cold so I let her wear my trench coat, since I was not feeling cold at all. And the more attention she gave me, the warmer I got. I might have slyly put my arm around her at one point, I'm not sure. But I was getting more attracted to her by the minute.
After the hockey game, we all went downtown to a local bar in the college town part of town. Ellen, just as natural as could be, got right in my car while all the other guys piled into the other car. We had nachos and beer and I was in rare form, just cutting up and acting obnoxious. Then my old roommate told me that one of his buddies was feeling a little sick so they had to leave early. “You mind giving Ellen a ride home?” Heck No!
I took her back to her place, and we sat outside of her apartment and talked. For a long time. Hours. Oh. And we also kissed a lot, lot,lot! I wish I could remember that first kiss, but I do remember a bunch of them. We stayed in my car because she was afraid her roommates were home. It turns out they weren't but by the end of that evening, it didn't matter to me. I was happy to be wherever she was.
Earlier in the evening, before going into the bar, I remember Ellen and I walking up to an ATM machine down the street from the bar. I remember a couple that were standing in line waiting, and they were all over each other and I kind of upbraided them telling them to get a room.
The following evening, I picked Ellen up after her shift at the grocery store where she was working ended, and we were dying for a room! We could absolutely not keep our hands off each other.
I had never felt a buzz like that in my entire life. Ever. I don't know if I've ever felt it since. We sat out in the car again after going to another hockey game and we talked and kissed a whole lot more. Then it was time for me to leave. It was one of the hardest goodbyes I'd ever had to say. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers and I made the 4 hour drive back home. Floated back, more like. I saw the sun rise and it looked different than it ever had before. I still remember the ball of orange rising in the east across a wintry Iowa farm and field landscape. I wondered if I would ever hear or see her again.
I didn't have long to wonder. 2 days later, she called me on my birthday. I about melted as soon as I heard her voice. We spent hours talking on the phone, neither one of us wanting to be the one to hang up. From that day forward, I wrote her a letter every single day. Even on Sunday, when the mail wasn't delivering, I would write, so on Monday there were two letters going out.
The next weekend, she invited me down to visit and stay at her place. The initial plan was for me to sleep on the couch but since her roommate was gone for the weekend, I was offered her (the roommate's) bed. That didn't happen. I did sleep with Ellen on her little trundle bed, altho there wasn't much sleeping going on. But it's still not what you think. I was a 25 year-old virgin and Ellen hadn't any experience, either. We spent the entire night making out. We stayed mostly clothed the entire night, me in my sweats and her in her nightshirt. At one point I went down to kiss her breast and she rolled back to give be better access. Oh, that was heady! I was with this attractive young woman and she was opening herself up to me! At the same time, I was as totally respectful of her as she was a good catholic girl and wanted to save herself for marriage. I was hearing wedding bells.
She came to visit me and meet my parents during Thanksgiving break. By this time, I was absolutely head-over-heels. She stayed at my parent's house, while I stayed at my apartment. But we did spent some quality time at my place. We were lying on my bed making out and she finally said “Well, I s'pose…” and took off her shirt. I battled the bra hooks and got it off and it wasn't long before she was totally naked. It was divine. I got down to my underwear which was good enough for me at the time. My fingers did a good amount of wandering, but I never brought her to orgasm. She richly enjoyed the attention and from then on, anytime I wanted to touch her, she let me. I, on the other hand, was not exactly responding in a typical male fashion. She would try to stroke me, but I never really got sexually aroused that way. It was the oddest thing in the world. I was in love with her, no doubt. But it went totally deeper than sexual lust, as if I just bypassed that whole sexual lust business and went straight into the soul. I really did like it when she'd touch me, but I just didn't get hard. Of course, then insecurity would set in, and that didn't help matters at all! That didn't last, however.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I took her back to her place. Her roommates were both out of town, so we used her other roommates bedroom, the one with the big bed and no windows. Ellen said it was okay, and thinking back she must have been planning this all along because she had gotten permission from this roommate before she ever left to visit me!
That night was quite memorable. Ellen was naked, with me in my underwear and we kissed and made out and I sucked her nipples, nibbled her ears and used my fingers to get her aroused. Then, I decided to take off my underwear. My non-erection phase came to an abrupt end. I got big and hard. Ellen was pretty thrilled with that, I think, but she was also a bit frightened. But my virgin self was absolutely not sure what to do. Looking back, there's a part of me that wishes I would have done what I was thinking. But I remained respectful, thinking there would be plenty of other opportunities to end my virginity with her. She was on top and began rubbing her body against me and it felt absolutely divine. Totally wonderful. Exquisitely fabulous. I was pulsing and throbbing and climaxed big time. So I suppose, that was something. Ellen was the first girl to ever make me climax like that. Actually my biggest regret is being too stupid to return the favor. I was so naive, and rather dumb. After that orgasm, I was finally ready to sleep, feeling totally spent and relaxed. She was not, though. So we stayed awake and played some more but I'm afraid I wasn't very good or attentive the rest of the night.
I drove home the next day, totally enraptured and daydreamed about the wonderful future Ellen and I had in store. In two weeks, I would visit her at her house and meet her parents. Then there would be all of Christmas break to spend together. I couldn't wait.
Her parents lived 4 hours from my house in Davenport. I left very early and arrived there in the morning where her parents greeted me. They weren't altogether too warm about it, though. But I was doing my best to be on my best behavior. I don't think I did too well. Ellen became a different person in her own home. Her parents treated her like a helpless little dingbat of a girl instead of the intelligent, independent young lady that I had come to know and love. They seemed to want to micromanage every facet of her life. It was heartbreaking to see and I'm afraid my disapproval shown through. I liked her father okay, but her mother was the puppet master in that house. And it was clear that I wasn't cutting the mustard. They were both teachers, and in Iowa that put them in the upper middle class. I was just a farm boy, which didn't even register on the “somewhat worthy” scale.
Ellen and I spent the weekend hanging out at her house, and going to the mall and visiting some of her neighborhood hangouts. One funny incident occurred after her parents had gone to bed, and we were supposed to be watching Three Men and a Baby. Ellen loved babies and couldn't wait to have some of her own. I never have seen that movie. We were laying on the couch, making out, when I accidentally kicked the lamp over. It fell with a crash that should have awoken the whole house. But no one stirred. However, I went to look for my glasses which I had taken off and put under the couch. They weren't there. We searched for them frantically as I'm as blind as a bat without them. Ellen finally went into her parent's room and found them. Her little dog (a schitzu) had gotten them and had chewed on them. The dog didn't damage the lenses but had damaged the frames. I could still wear them, and did.
Her parents offered to buy me new glasses and we even went to the mall to Lensecrafters to get some but they weren't open for some reason. Before I left their house, they once again urged me to get new glasses and send them the bill.
Sunday morning, she and her family went to Catholic mass. I, being a Presbyterian at the time, stayed at her home alone and played with the dog. That little dog loved to play catch and that's what we did. Maybe I should have gone to church.
Ellen and I left the house at the same time that afternoon. She gave me a hug and a kiss, but something was missing from that kiss. I left for home and she left for school. We shared a sizable piece of interstate, during which time I took a marker and a notebook, and made little signs that said I LOVE YOU and I NEED YOU! Then I'd pull up beside her and hold up my sign and she would smile at me. Then it came time for me to make my turn North while she traveled west, towards Ames. That was the last time I would ever see Ellen smile. I had no idea, but my spirit did. Deep down, I felt a sharp stab of sadness sink into me, and for some unknown reason, I began to cry. It was odd. I never cry. But I did that afternoon, and it wouldn't be long before I would cry again. And again and again and again.
Thinking back, I'm sure Ellen's mother had a good talk with her on their way to and from church. Whatever happened, it was just starting to sink in to Ellen as we left. According to a conversation I had with her roommate, Ellen was miserable the entire week. But I was totally unaware. At least until that Wednesday.
I hadn't heard from Ellen, and this was strange to me. No calls and no letter. I knew she had finals that week so just figured she was busy studying and doing whatever she had to do to get ready for her student teaching the next semester. She was scheduled to student teach in Cedar Rapids, which was only a couple hours from where I lived, so our commuting distance would be greatly reduced. That's what was going through my mind as I called her. Her roommate answered and said Ellen was doing laundry. Unbeknowest to me, she was sitting right there. Miserable. I just told her roommate to have Ellen call me when she got in, and she said she'd tell her.
But Ellen didn't call back. On Thursday I called again, and her roommate said Ellen was not in, but she would tell that I had called. Now I'm getting concerned. Ellen still didn't call me back. I knew that on Friday, Ellen would be returning to her parent's house for Christmas break.
I remember going out with friends earlier in the week shopping for a Christmas gift for Ellen. I was looking for a promise ring. I remember she said she really liked sapphires. I didn't buy anything, but figured I would have plenty of time before Christmas. My mother was knitting her a make-up bag in the school colors. My family really like her and they really liked that I was happy.
Whilst I was shopping, Ellen was busy writing the last letter she would ever write to me. I, on the other hand, kept writing and sending her love letters every single day. When I had visited her, she showed me the drawer she kept them in, and there were a TON of letters! I had typed them all and saved them on my computer, since my handwriting is very poor. Ellen wrote maybe twice a week. I might still have some of those letters as they represented the nicest things anyone has ever said to and about me. I also eventually printed out my letters, as the Apple II format was becoming less popular.
That Friday afternoon, I called her house, and SHE answered. No, not Ellen, but her mother. Her mother said that Ellen was not there yet but she would tell her that I had called. Now I was terribly worried. At 10:00, there was still no word from her. I tried to call her house again, and there was a busy signal. I kept trying and still there was the busy signal. I was getting scared and angry at the same time. Mostly desperate. I finally called the operator and asked her to check to see if someone was on that line or if the phone was just off the hook.
“I'm sorry sir, but there is no one talking on the line. It must be off the hook.”
I called her roommate and asked her what was going on. She apologized and sobbed that she really was sorry. This girl had seen Ellen and I together and could see the depth of the love that we had for each other. She was deeply envious as her own boyfriend was physically abusive to her except when they had sex. She thought Ellen had gone crazy and told her so. But for some reason, Ellen seemed determined.
I snapped. No, I fell more like. My heart sank to the deepest depths of a bottemless pit where my soul used to be before it was ripped out by its roots. It was now well past midnight. I called a friend, told her what had happened and told her what I planned to do. I had started a letter and was constantly adding to it as I went through the journey. It went from a love letter, to a hopeful letter to a journal of despair. At about 3 a.m. or so, I gassed up the car and left making the 4 hour drive to Davenport. I saw the sun rise again, just as I had only 2 months before only this time it would bring no joy. When I arrived at her house, her mother answered the door, and then went to get Ellen. I had not gotten her letter. Yet. Ellen said, "I deserve this…I deserve this for being such a chickenshit…I deserve to be sitting here and seeing you with a broken heart. I was hoping not to spoil your Christmas."
Her mother had been the one to suggest taking the phone off the hook. Ellen didn't know what to do, but finally said it would be okay. But she also knew that I would come. She hoped that her letter would end it all and that she wouldn't have to face me. So we sat on her couch, and talked for a bit. I had some things in the car that belonged to her and she had a few things that belonged to me that she returned. The inevitable exchanging of possessions. During the whole time, her mother went in and out of the room. She refused to leave Ellen and I alone. Her mother offered up some platitude about how we were too young and maybe if we had met when we were older or some such shit.
Before I left, I asked Ellen if she would call me in two weeks. She agreed. But she didn't want anymore letters. Her parents again told me to buy dome new glasses and send them the bill. I left for my house. My lonely, cold apartment. For the rest of the time I lived there, I never turned the heat about 50 degrees again. And I began smoking, a habit I still retain to this day. I had smoked a few times before but it was not a regular habit. I had never bought a pack of cigarettes, but bummed off of others while at parties and such.
When I got back home, her goodbye letter was waiting for me in my mailbox.
In two weeks, Ellen called just like she promised. I had held shreds of hope that she might change her mind over that amount of time, but she had not. This was supposed to be goodbye. For good. She said maybe in a year or two I could write her again and then we could maybe be friends. But she wanted no more letters.
Writing is like a habit. A lot like smoking and certainly a lot better for ones health. I was only work half-time and had way too much time on my hands.
I applied for a factory job for 2nd shift. In addition to this, I was in the Army Reserves and later, during the spring and summer I would help out on my Dad's farm in my “spare” time. I did not sleep for more than 5 hours a night, another habit I retain to this day. I tried to fill my time and divert my thoughts from the tragedy that had become my life. My mother worked in town and would visit me if she saw the light on. I was always awake, but didn't always have the lights on when she got off work at 11:30. She was terribly worried about me. I had stopped eating and lost about 50 pounds in the space of a couple of months. I danced and flirted with death. I eventually went to counseling, and the therapist told me that I was lucky to be out of that relationship. He said I would have ended up in his office eventually anyway with her and however many kids we had. He spent most of his time asking about my relationship with my father. He was definitely in the psycho dynamic camp. But he was a good guy, and it was okay having someone to talk to. After 4 sessions, he said I was okay and was welcome to come back if I wanted but said he couldn't do much more for me unless I brought my mother and father in with me. THAT was not going to happen!
As I said, writing is a hard habit to break. And I did write Ellen a 10 page letter not much more than a week after I promised not to. She called me on the phone as I was getting ready to leave for my second job. She claimed that I had betrayed her trust and that she could never trust me again and that she never wanted to hear from me again. Ever. She sounded so angry. I might have gotten angry back and shot a few things back about how she had dumped me for no reason or something. But it was a very short conversation, and just did not go well.
I did ended up eventually getting new glasses and I did send the bill to her folks with a letter to them. I can't even remember what I wrote, but I was quite humble all the way around. I did get a check directly from their insurance company as they had filed a claim under their household insurance. On the way to get the new glasses 90 minutes away (where the closest mall to my house was) I picked up a hitch hiker. Dangerous? I did not care. As far as I was concerned, I was dead already. I was never in the habit of picking them up before, but this time I did. And I'm glad I did.
He told me his story. He had been skiing out west, when someone stole his car and everything he had and he was trying to get back to his home in Canada. He had no money and just the clothes on his back. He had a good jacket but no hat or gloves, and hiking in Iowa in January is just not the wisest thing to do anyway with the best of equipment. He told me how his fiance and his mother were both killed in a car crash just a few months before. He was frustrated and depressed. All he wanted to do was get home. That story really put some things in perspective for me. My world was no where near as bad as his, and he was still struggling on. I needed to do that, too. That guy has no idea what he did for me that day, but he did me the bigger favor than anything I could have done for him.
He rode with me the whole 90 minutes and I dropped him off at a truck stop near the interstate and gave him $20. I never give panhandlers money. But this guy was worth every penny and more.
I never heard from Ellen again. My brother was a bar tender in Cedar Rapids and thinks he saw her there once with some friends. I did send her flowers to where she was student teaching when it was close to her graduation with a simple note that said “It's okay.” And then sent her one letter every year for about the next 5 years. She never wrote back. I eventually quit writing but have never forgotten (obviously!). I moved on and might have even thrown out those old letters, I don't even know. I hope she is happy wherever she is.
Geez. What a trip! Three hours later and I'm still at this! Oh, yeah. I almost forgot what brought on this splurging of words. Time to return to Earth and reality.
Tajalude had posted a picture of herself on her blog. I have no idea if she'll keep it there or not. In anycase, she is a dead ringer for Ellen. Or at least how Ellen looked in 1988 at the age of 22. The hair, the head, the nose, the chin and the smile. Ellen had green eyes and Tajalude's looks like they might be blue. Hard to tell from that picture.
One can only imagine what that did. Well, yeah, it inspired my longest post ever!
Tajalude has the ability, through her writing, to draw people in. Ellen was not nearly so skilled. But there is a familiar warmth there, in that smile. Even some of the uncertainty and the insecurities
Maybe this was meant to be in order to give me some new insight and perspective from my past. Or maybe this will give someone else some insight if they ever make it all the way through this opus! In anycase, God works through us all. When we pray, it's silly to pray for God to do something for us or to us. He works through us. We are the conduits through which His power flows. Oh yes, He does perform miracles everyday, both great and small. But the ultimate goal is to move us towards Him. I still have so far to go. So very, very far. But maybe I'm just an inch closer, today.
For whatever reason, the universe brought forth Tajalude in order that she might post that picture which means I was brought forth and the circumstances aligned so that I might see it. I do derive a certain amount of comfort from that. I mean, what are the odds?